Bookkeeper vs Accountant vs CPA: What’s the Difference?

When you think of a bookkeeper versus an accountant versus a CPA, it is like having different levels to the game. While there are professional, bookkeepers, CPAs are the most qualified in accounting.

We will look at the difference between a bookkeeper accountant and a CPA so it is clear once, and for all!

difference between bookkeeper and accountant

What is a Bookkeeper? (Welcome to Accounting)

Some people think of a bookkeeper as an entry-level accountant but that is not the case. A bookkeeper is a person that is recording transactions and preparing financial statements.

Generally speaking, they have at least an associate’s degree or some form of online training keepers often have a good idea of how to use QuickBooks or Xero. Both are popular bookkeeping software.

What keepers are generally knowledgeable in recording transactions, journal entries and running financial reports for the business. Often that is the extent of their duties they usually don’t get into much tax-related work and they surely don’t get into any auditing.

That is where an accountant comes in.

What is an Accountant? (A Step Up in Knowledge)

accountants focusing on reviews, compilations, audits, and taxes

Compared to a bookkeeper and accountant generally has a bit more schooling. They have usually gone to four years of college and have a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Accountants are the step before a CPA. It is the middle ground between a bookkeeper and a CPA.

Accountants generally focus on reviews, compilations, audits, and taxes. They usually are not the ones preparing the financial statements, but instead auditing them. As we mentioned, bookkeepers are the ones preparing the financial statements.

The day-to-day of an accountant could be very specialized in just audit or tax, or it could be a crossover between the two. Accounting jobs generally pay a bit more than bookkeeping, and this is largely due to the education required to be an accountant.

They are always changing standards and regulations in the accounting field, while bookkeeping generally stays the same.

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What is a Certified Public Accountant? (A Look at a CPA)

A certified public accountant has quite a bit more experience than just a general accountant. They have completed their four years of college, but also some extra education to get up to 150 credits.

Also, they complete a work experience requirement to become a CPA on top of all of that, they have to pass a four-part exam demonstrating their knowledge in accounting, taxes, regulation, and business.

A CPA is the highest level of accounting and therefore it is the highest paid among accountants and bookkeepers. For most accountants, it is the level they are trying to reach.

The main differentiator between an accountant, and a CPA is not only the title, but also that a CPA can sign off on audited financial statements. This is crucial in a public accounting firm.

To be clear and accountant without a CPA is not able to sign off on financial statements or tax returns. That is why you see higher pay for CPAs, because they are much more valuable to firms.

CPAs do not get involved in preparing financial statements like bookkeepers. Instead, if they get this kind of work from a client, they generally delegate it within the firm or outsource it to a bookkeeper.

Being a CPA requires client-facing skills, technical acumen, and the willingness for consistent learning. It is truly a profession for those who want to be in business and challenge themselves.

Bookkeeper vs Accountant vs CPA: Which One is Best?

bookkeeper vs accountant

So we have covered bookkeepers vs accountants vs CPAs but which one is best? It really comes down to a personal choice.

Some people don’t want to do all the schooling required for an accountant, let alone a CPA, which requires multiple exams. It is a long and hard road, but certainly worth it. 

For some bookkeeping is just enough. If you want to earn your own business, and there is not as high of a hurdle to start a bookkeeping firm. Plus you can network with accountants and become the recommended bookkeeper if they do not have one in the firm.

If your goal is to be an accountant and not a bookkeeper, then try to keep on going and get that CPA. It will enhance your professional career for years to come and demand higher pay not only that, but you will have more job safety, than just being an accountant once you are qualified.

Putting in the work might seem tough but being a CPA definitely has the most benefits vs an accountant or a bookkeeper.

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Final Thoughts on Bookkeepers vs Accountants vs CPAs

A lot of people want to be CPAs, but they don’t just start there. It takes multiple years, of schooling and passing exams to get to the CPA level.

If you are just exploring the accounting career field and don’t be afraid to start with bookkeeping and work your way up from there. Practice your skills, many of what you can learn online and you’ll be in a great spot for whichever of the three careers you choose.

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